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Cleveland Cavaliers select Eastern Michigan SF Emoni Bates 49th overall in 2023 NBA Draft

Bates, a former 5-star high school standout, is the first Eastern Michigan selection since Derrick Dial in 1998.

Detroit Mercy v Eastern Michigan Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Eastern Michigan Eagles waited a quarter of a century to send an NBA Draft prospect, but that long drought ended Thursday night at the Barclays Center in New York.

Eastern Michigan small forward Emoni Bates was selected as the 49th overall pick in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the first player from the university taken since Derrick Dial in 1998. Bates is the 15th Eastern Michigan selection in NBA Draft history, appearing on a list of names which most notably includes San Antonio Spurs legend and Hall of Famer George Gervin. He is the highest player chosen from the program since Grant Long, who warranted the 33rd overall pick in 1988.

Bates navigated a unique and complex pathway prior to launching his NBA career Thursday night. Prior to arriving at Eastern Michigan, the Ann Arbor, MI native was one of the most highly-touted high school basketball recruits, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as early as 2019 and earning a No. 1 ranking among all players in the 2022 high school class.

He lost that No. 1 status when he reclassified to the class of 2021, but still, he was a consensus 5-star recruit and regarded as a top five prospect by major outlets including ESPN, 247Sports, and Rivals. Bates initially remained grounded in his home state when committing to Michigan State during a live interview on SportsCenter in June 2020, but he withdrew his commitment in April 2021 and landed at Memphis four months later.

Bates spent his true freshman season under head coach Penny Hardaway, averaging 9.7 points per game and 3.3 assists per game with the Tigers. A back injury limited him to 18 games, but Bates returned in time for the NCAA Tournament, where he played sparingly off the bench in Memphis’ two contests. Although “one-and-done” is the typical route for the nation’s highest-ranked recruits, Bates decided to hone his skills in college for another year as opposed to pursuing the NBA dream. But rather than continuing at Memphis, he transferred to Eastern Michigan and relocated closer to his hometown.

Prior to launching his sophomore season at Eastern Michigan, Bates was arrested on charges for carrying a concealed weapon. This September 2022 incident caused Eastern Michigan to briefly suspend Bates from the team, but he was reinstated in October when prosecutors dropped the charges.

Back with the program, Bates made his highly-anticipated debut on Nov. 11 against Michigan, dropping 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting against the Wolverines. It was the first of four 30+ point performances by the former high school star, but none of those four showings were more impressive than the one he unleashed Jan. 24 at Toledo. Despite registering a loss to the Rockets that night, Bates went on a tear by scoring 29 consecutive points for the Eagles in the first half — finishing with a career-high 43 points on a stellar 9-of-14 showcase from beyond the arc.

Eastern Michigan did not punch a ticket to a postseason tournament, finishing 8-23 overall and 5-13 in conference play — despite wielding the only MAC player selected in the 2023 NBA Draft. Even in the midst of a disappointing season for the team, Bates proved his individual mettle by averaging 19.2 points per game (3rd in the MAC) on 40.5 / 33.0 / 78.2 shooting splits, along with securing 5.8 rebounds (9th in the MAC) and 1.4 assists per contest.

The 6’9”, 190 pound draftee lands on a Cleveland Cavaliers squad looking to add forward depth after their first round elimination to the New York Knicks in April. Led by promising guard talent in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, along with a towering frontcourt of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland qualified for their first postseason since 2018 as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference with hopes of taking the next step in 2023-24.

The small forward position, which is currently headlined by Isaac Okoro and supported by Cedi Osman, was certainly a glaring need for the hopeful Eastern Conference contender. The Cavaliers are optimistic that Bates, at age 19, can pay dividends as a second-round pick just two years after being regarded as a can’t-miss prospect in the 2021 recruiting class.